Queer books for life: podcast celebrates LGBTQ literature

  • by David-Elijah Nahmod
  • Tuesday March 28, 2023
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"This Queer Book Saved My Life" host J. P. Der Boghossian
"This Queer Book Saved My Life" host J. P. Der Boghossian

Books with queer themes are the subject of each episode of "This Queer Book Saved My Life," a podcast based out of Minneapolis. In installment after installment, host J. P. Der Boghossian talks to a guest about books that saved their life, i.e. had a tremendous impact on them. The books chosen aren't new, as in the episode in which a gay man discusses Armistead Maupin's "Tales of the City," which gave him his first taste of characters he could identify with.

In some episodes, the author of the book will join Der Boghossian and his guest in the discussion. In the premiere episode of season three, Minnesota Public Radio reporter Jacob Aloi talked about the young adult novel "Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda," a tale about a 16-year-old boy coming to terms with his sexuality. In 2018, the book was adapted into the hit film "Love, Simon." Becky Albertalli, the author of the book, joins Der Boghossian and Aloi in the discussion.

Occasionally a famous author will appear on the podcast. Back in October 2022, Dr. Joe Perazzo, an HIV clinical trials nurse and a nursing professor, told Der Boghossian why he kept coming back to "Breaking the Surface," the memoir by gay Olympic diver Greg Louganis, who talked about being open and honest about his HIV status, among other things.

Der Boghossian has a queer book of his own which he says saved his life. When he read "A Home at the End of the World" by Michael Cunningham, he learned, for the first time, about polyamorous relationships. Some time later Der Boghossian met two men who wanted to have a poly relationship with him.

"As it turned out, this relationship saved my life," Der Boghossian said in an interview with the Bay Area Reporter. Seriously, on so many levels. Something came alive in me. And I don't think I could have been prepared for it if I hadn't spent so much time with Jonathan, Bobby and Clare and their poly relationship; what I loved about it, and my disappointment with some of the choices they made, and ultimately how I didn't want to make those same mistakes. And here we are. Jim, Gordy and I have been together for over eleven years. It's the best thing that ever happened to me."

Love of books
Der Boghossian works as an Associate Vice President of Equity at a community college. He finds the work important, yet he missed working directly in the LGBTQ community. As he continued to write and publish essays, he found himself wanting to be more engaged in the literary scene.

"And I love books," he said. "My joke is that I came out of the womb with a book. They are my solace. And I found myself missing my first career in broadcast journalism. There was something so satisfying in telling stories and using that specific skillset."

It was his therapist who suggested that a podcast could combine all of that, and so "This Queer Book Saved My Life" was born.

"This Queer Book Saved My Life" host J. P. Der Boghossian  

"We have armed psychos showing up at drag queen story hours," Der Boghossian said. "We have shooters in our clubs. We have more laws than ever before banning our books from schools, and criminalizing health care for trans and nonbinary kids. How do we navigate this? How? I wanted to hear from queer people about the stories that helped them live and love in this world."

Der Boghossian and his executive producer Jim Pounds do not select the books or the authors that appear on the podcast. Rather, they recruit the guests, who tell them what the book is that saved their life. From there, they reach out to the authors.

"So we really don't know what the book is going to be, which is very exciting," he said. "We are intentional about how we are recruiting. It was very important to us to make sure the full rainbow is represented. Not every person we reach out to wants to be on the show, but a good number do. And now we're to the point where people are reaching out to us through the website or social media to request being on the podcast. I love that. A listener hears an episode and that sparks the desire to share their story and the book that saved their life."

In addition to the full-length episodes, "This Queer Book" also features a series of interviews called "7 Minutes in Book Heaven." In these segments, Der Boghossian spends seven minutes chatting with an author about their new or upcoming book. Questions he asks them include "What do you feel is the best sentence you've ever written?" and "What are your favorite senses or smells to write about?" As the author responds, Der Boghossian reacts with an enthusiasm that is infectious.

"This Queer Book" is growing in popularity. According to Der Boghossian, the podcast has been heard in 53 countries and 872 communities worldwide. Top countries outside the US are Bangladesh, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia and Germany. Top US cities are Minneapolis/St. Paul, New York, Los Angeles, Seattle and Chicago.

"I hope that a listener will find a book that unlocks something life-giving for them," said Der Boghossian. "That it sparks new ways for them to live and love in this world and that they pass it along by sharing the podcast with others."

Episodes of "This Queer Book Saved My Life" can be found on Apple Podcasts and Spotify, and on the podcast's website. www.thisqueerbook.com

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